Thursday, 24 December 2009

Capital push to green up the grid

Canberra Times
Tuesday 22/12/2009 Page: 1

smart meters could be fast-tracked for ACT homes and drivers of electric vehicles could be rewarded with lower registration and parking costs under an ACT Government plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 10% in the next decade. Minister for Energy and the Environment Simon Corbell issued a draft energy policy yesterday that aims at more than doubling the amount of renewable energy used in the ACT to 25% by 2020 through proliferation of solar energy locally and sourcing more green power through the National Energy Market.

Mr Corbell acknowledged some of the measures to reduce emissions could add to the cost of electricity for the ACT but said they would also increase security of supply. The Draft Sustainable Energy Policy 2010-2020 raises the possibility of extending concessions to low income earners to allow them to take part in the push to reduce emissions by increasing the current energy concession and indexing it to electricity price rises. Currently 22,000 ACT households receive a concession under the scheme.

Transport would be targeted as part of the plan, with the ACT Government to consider introducing electric vehicles in the government fleet that would be compatible with the trial electric vehicle charging network proposed for Canberra by Better Place. Rail freight would be encouraged over other transport options and the Government will continue its push to see paid parking introduced in the parliamentary triangle to encourage workers in the area to consider public transport or alternatives such as cycling and walking. The ACT currently purchases virtually all of its electricity from generators outside its borders through its connection to the National Energy Market.

The draft plan recognises the vulnerability of having a single link to that network and proposes constructing a second link to the national grid to secure against blackouts and other threats to supply. Mr Corbell said the purpose of releasing the draft in its current form was to encourage debate and feedback from the Canberra community.

"The intention of the policy is to make sure more of our electricity is sourced here, we won't just be sourcing from the national market," he said. "More and more will be coming from local generation so that individual buildings become more and more self-sufficient. And while there's still a cost associated with that, it improves the security and reliability of supply and hopefully it can also maintain a competitive price for consumers," Mr Corbell said.

Mr Corbell said that moves such as extending the ACT's generous feed-in tariff from households to larger businesses would send the sort of investment signal required to trigger companies to build smaller scale renewable generation capacity. ACT Greens spokesman Shane Rattenbury said he was pleased to see an energy policy taking shape, as it was a vital policy tool for reducing the ACT's environmental footprint. Independent modelling had estimated that the cost of increasing the proportion of the ACT's electricity that cane from renewable sources showed it was within reach.

"We're looking at $200-$300 a year per capita would see 50% of ACT's electricity coming from green sources. That's about $4 a week for the average household. There is a willingness and a desire here to snake our energy supply cleaner and greener," he said. ACT Opposition Leader Zed Seselja said there were a number of promising initiatives in the draft, but little detail on how the Government would achieve its objectives at a reasonable cost to ACT taxpayers. "We agree with the aspirations and acknowledge there will be costs, but what we need to achieve is the best bang for our buck. We do support large-scale solar, energy efficiency in homes is also essential. But there has been a lot of money wasted on less cost-effective ways of reducing emissions through the feed-in tariff," Mr Seselja said.